Scenario #3: A GOP Tsunami Crashes Over Congress

by Nathan L. Gonzales October 5, 2010 · 9:52 AM EDT

One month before Election Day and this much is clear: Democrats will take a pounding when frustrated (and in some cases unemployed) voters go to the polls. Public opinion polls show a majority of Americans are unhappy with the present course of the country and are impatient for a reversal in the economy’s long, downward slide.

The question now is how bad it will get for Democrats.

So volatile are the times that evidence supports three distinct possible outcomes on Election Day. Democrats could endure heavy losses but retain governing majorities in the House and the Senate, they could keep the Senate but lose the House, or they could surrender both in a tide of voter fury that Republicans have shrewdly embraced.

Here is one possible Election Day outcome.

#3 A GOP Tsunami Crashes Over Congress

Nov. 3, 2010 Driven by voter discontent amid a still-sagging economy, Republicans charged into majorities in the House and Senate in a historic midterm that made 1994 look modest. In one night, Republicans erased five years of electoral losses.

With votes still being tallied in a handful of races, Republicans are poised to gain a dozen Senate seats and perhaps as many as 70 House seats, giving the GOP close to double what they needed for a majority.

Right up to Election Day, Democrats thought their party base would rally behind Democratic incumbents and that voters in the middle would remain skeptical of a tea-flavored GOP. But on Tuesday, their worst fears became reality.

Not only did the White House fail to generate the 2008 “surge” of voters that vaulted Barack Obama to the presidency, but Democratic turnout fell below 2006, when the party had a common enemy and rallying point against President George W. Bush.

Independents voted against Democratic candidates by a measure of almost 2-to-1 in competitive races, and Republicans and tea party conservatives united to unseat the Democratic establishment.

With less than a quarter of the electorate saying the country is headed in the right direction, Tuesday’s results were a clear repudiation of Obama and his party. Republicans gained the most seats in the Senate since 1980, and their House total will rival the 1922 and 1938 midterm elections when more than 70 seats switched partisan hands. In the Senate, Republican gains were expansive. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon was the only Democratic candidate to win a Senate seat west of Buffalo, N.Y.

The Democrats’ West Coast firewall crumbled as dispirited Democrats failed to turn out, permitting Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.) and Barbara Boxer (Calif.) to go down in defeat. The East Coast wasn’t much friendlier as former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon (R) defeated popular state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) in Connecticut’s open-seat race.

Republicans also logged symbolic victories by defeating Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) in Nevada and taking Obama’s former Senate seat in Illinois. New Castle County Executive Chris Coons (D) held Vice President Joseph Biden’s former seat in Delaware by defeating tea party favorite Christine O’Donnell (R).

Tea-party-powered candidates were victorious in Colorado, Kentucky, Utah, Alaska, Florida, and Nevada and could be a thorn in the side of aspiring Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) next year.

For months, Republicans targeted Democratic incumbents in the House for votes in favor of the stimulus bill, the cap-and-trade bill and health care reform. But on Tuesday, Democrats of all shapes, sizes and voting records were thrown out of office.

Republicans defeated more than 55 Democratic incumbents and added at least a dozen Democratic open seats to their total. Democrats knocked off one incumbent (Republican Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao of Louisiana) and took over one GOP open seat in Delaware.

By Election Day, the House playing field had tilted so dramatically against Democrats that it became apparent that losses would be severe. Democrats held 95 of the 100 competitive House seats before Tuesday and lost more than two-thirds of them.

Republicans won races from coast to coast, but their Rust Belt rout secured the majority. Nearly half of the GOP gains came in the middle of the country, from Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.

In states where the economy is particularly weak, voters laid most of the blame on the Democratic Party as Republicans gained 30 House seats, three Senate seats and five governorships in just seven states.

Among the losses elsewhere in the country were longtime Democratic incumbent Reps. John Spratt (S.C.), Ike Skelton (Mo.), Leonard Boswell (Iowa) and Chet Edwards (Texas), who had survived past GOP waves.

Adding insult to injury, Republican Tim Burns defeated Rep. Mark Critz (D) in Pennsylvania’s 12th district. Critz defeated Burns in a special election earlier in the year, and Democrats consistently used the race as a template for survival in races across the country.

Democrats were unable to replicate that feat as their spending advantage was nullified by voters’ distrust of the party in power. Outside groups helped sustain GOP candidates in the early fall when those candidates and the National Republican Congressional Committee couldn’t afford to run television ads.